Optimism about Science and Tech, Alternative Math, and Political Topics

Another optimistic take on part of current affairs (not politics). Plus: alternative math, and political items.

Washington Post, Max Boot, 18 Jan 2023: Opinion | U.S. politics is awful — but our science and technology offer hope for the future


It’s easy to be pessimistic about the United States’ future if you focus (as the news media tends to do) on our dysfunctional political scene. But if you look beyond politics to science and technology, the news is far more encouraging. The United States has been on a winning streak of scientific achievement recently that bodes well for the future — as long as we take the necessary steps (in particular with regard to skilled immigration and research funding) to safeguard our technological lead.

James Webb, Artemis, a nuclear fusion breakthrough, coronavirus vaccines and mRNA technology, AI and ChatGPT, the B-21 stealth bomber. (I have mixed feelings about claiming a weapon of war as a scientific advancement, much less displaying the article’s photo at the top of this post, but that’s the best I can do at the moment. Perhaps I’ll edit tomorrow.)

Not all is rosy. China is surpassing the US in some ways. The US educational system is a laggard. We train foreign students then send them home instead of giving them visas and letting them stay.

That makes no sense. Every science and engineering student earning a degree in the United States should be given at least a work visa and preferably a green card upon graduation. As Panchanathan points out, even if the United States greatly expanded its pool of domestic tech workers, it would still not have enough talent to compete with India and China, each with more than a billion people. “You need both domestic and global talent in large quantities,” he argues.

And we don’t spend enough on research.


NY Times, William J. Broad, 17 Jan 2023: What Happened to All of Science’s Big Breakthroughs?, subtitled “A new study finds a steady drop since 1945 in disruptive feats as a share of the world’s booming enterprise in scientific and technological advancement.”

We already noted the Vox piece in Sunday’s post. Aside from the “low-hanging fruit” theory, the article identified the problem as one of funding scientific grants in the US — without, as I commented, explaining why other countries weren’t then finding these big breakthroughs.

So what does William J. Broad think? Let’s read it.

Well, it focuses on citation analysis, as the means of assessing this kind of trend. One observation:

The new study could deepen the debate. One surprise is that discoveries hailed popularly as groundbreaking are seen by the authors of the new study as often representing little more than routine science, and true leaps as sometimes missing altogether from the conversation.

Examples discussed are gene-splicing, mRNA vaccines, gravitation waves. It discusses the idea of “disruptive” advances. And also the idea of team sizes. But, perhaps to its credit, the article does not hone in on any one explanation, as the Vox piece rather implausibly did.


And now for the fun.

Jerry Coyne, 18 Jan 2023: Video: Alternative math takes over

He links a video from several years ago — I know I’ve seen it before — that dramatizes a school situation in which parents challenge their son’s teacher for telling him that his answer to “what is 2 + 2” of “22” was wrong. Well that’s *your* opinion, and you have no right to impose that on our son! Yes it sounds absurd, but many of the things some people want to teach their children, in defiance of science and reason (like creationism), sound equally absurd, to those who actually have some education and experience in the real world.


NY Times, Thomas B. Edsall, 18 Jan 2023: ‘You Don’t Negotiate With These Kinds of People’

Over the past eight years, the Republican Party has been transformed from a generally staid institution representing the allure of low taxes, conservative social cultural policies and laissez-faire capitalism into a party of blatant chaos and disruption.

Vox, Ian Millhiser, 18 Jan 2023: A new Supreme Court case could turn every workplace into a religious battleground, subtitled “The fight over whether religious conservatives enjoy special rights is coming to a workplace near you.”

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear Groff v. DeJoy, a case that could give religious conservatives an unprecedented new ability to dictate how their workplaces operate, and which workplace rules they will refuse to follow.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 19 Jan 2023: “Gas stoves!” freak-out is the least convincing fake Republican outrage ever, subtitled “Suddenly the party that despises kale and Dijon mustard wants to pretend they’re precious about culinary techniques”

Desperate, as usual, to talk about anything but their actual policies — much less their party’s widespread corruption — Republicans spent MLK weekend pretending they believe gas stoves are in imminent danger of being banned, and also that they care.

Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 19 Jan 2023: Crime and un-punishment: Now Republicans have a roadmap for a better coup, subtitled “Trump’s not going to jail and major Republicans have faced no consequences. They’ll absolutely try it again”

We’re living in history here.

Salon, Julia Conley, 19 Jan 2023: “Dangerous and deadly”: Ron DeSantis pushes permanent ban on COVID mitigation measures, subtitled “Democrat rips DeSantis for promoting ‘a fake ideology with real consequences'”

Why not just ban medicine? Some religious sects do.

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